Objective: To assess the effectiveness of the 2-week referral system for CNS/brain tumours and to contrast this with the number of patients with neurological cancers identified independently of this system.
Method: Retrospective casenote review of patients referred to emergency neurology clinics pre-implementation of the 2-week referral system. Retrospective review of GP referral letters via this system and comparison to Department of Health referral guidelines. Review of corresponding casenotes to determine the actual neurological diagnosis. Identification of patients with CNS/brain tumours diagnosed independently of this system from a local CNS cancer register.
Results: Over a 3-month period pre-implementation of the referral system, of 12 patients referred as emergencies, none had CNS/brain cancer. Forty-three patients were referred via this system over a 9-month period to neurology departments of a teaching hospital and a district general hospital. Thirty per cent of the referrals did not follow the Department of Health guidelines. Only 9% actually had CNS tumours (two astrocytomas, two cerebral metastases). The remainder were diagnosed with chronic daily headache (10), epilepsy (5), migraine (3), demyelination (2), essential tremor (2), other (17). During this period at least 69 neurological cancers were identified independently of the 2-week system.
Conclusion: These guidelines may increase diagnostic precision if adhered to rigidly. Inappropriate referrals have extended already lengthy outpatient waiting times in other specialities. We suggest early re-consideration of these guidelines and further study for earlier identification of CNS cancer.